People throw around the word “core” a lot these days when they talk about how to get – and stay – fit. Though it may sound like just a buzzword, there is definitely some truth to back up the hype. We talked to fitness expert Marie Piazza to get the details.
“Keeping your core strong and healthy at any age is a solid foundation for aging well and living a healthy, quality-filled lifestyle, protecting you from injury, pain, and ultimately surgery,” says Piazza, an integrative nutrition health coach and certified personal fitness trainer at I Am Ready World.
Piazza, who is based in St. Lucia but spent several years working with Jazzercise Inc. in California, has been in the health, wellness, and fitness industry for more than 25 years.
“The word ‘core’ is greatly overused and misunderstood, so much so it has been regulated to slang in order to describe ‘abs, six-pack, and belly’. It is a whole lot more than that,” she says, explaining the core plays an integral part in the functioning of the whole body.
Why a strong core matters
In layman’s terms, your core basically refers to the muscles at your centre or your torso – think your lower belly, waist, pelvis, and part of the chest, back, and butt. Typically, Piazza says, when it comes to the core, people want to see results in four main muscles: the transverse abdominis, the internal and external abdominis obliques, and the rectus abdominis – essentially, the stomach muscles. But it’s not all about looks.
How core strength affects the rest of the body
“Our core muscles allow us mobility, flexibility, coordination, and balance for everyday functional activities such as sitting, standing, bending, reaching, twisting, and sports. Core strength creates a natural support for the spine to eliminate pain and aid in faster recovery,” Piazza says.
“Excellent postural alignment is the cornerstone of core strength and it is especially important to bear this in mind whilst engaging in strength training,” she notes.
A strong core…
- Improves your posture
- Maintains good balance
- Supports your back, especially when lifting heavy items
“Poor core strength affects the neck, shoulders, hips, back and knees, and leaves these areas vulnerable to injury.”
Exercises for a strong core
“Orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists very often prescribe core strength exercises designed to alleviate back pain,” Piazza says.
“My favorite core strength exercises are Pilates-based. They are simple to learn, easy to implement and focus on alignment and execution, which transcends to everyday use. I always feel energized, lengthened and lean following Pilates-based core movements.”
The 100 – “At the heart of every amazing Pilates session is this practice, which gets you warmed up and gets the blood pumping through the body as it prepares for the work ahead,” Piazza says. “There are three different levels to do this movement. If it is your first time, don't jump into doing 100, start with 50 and work your way up. Don't forget the breaths.”
The Criss-Cross – “This simple movement works all of the midsection, including the obliques, and helps to build great core strength.”
The Supine Bridge – Hip thrust exercises like this, Piazza explains, are good for lumbar (lower back) stability. This move also includes some gluteal (butt muscle) activation.
The Saw – “A good stretch whilst building strength, [this is] good for spinal rotation and opens and stretches the shoulders and upper back,” Piazza says. It’s a “good beginner movement for non-traditional ab work.”
The bonus of having a strong, healthy core, Piazza says, is that you look and feel confident on a daily basis. “Who doesn’t want that?”